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How to Stretch the Grocery Budget When Living Away From Home

This content is part of our Guide to Education advertising feature and was produced by Great West Digital.
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Making the grocery budget stretch can be a challenge, so arm yourself with some good practices when studying away from home.

As you pack the car and head off to university, you can’t wait for your independent life of freedom. No more parents looking over your shoulder! You are free to stay up late, eat what you want, and show the world that you’ve totally got this. Then you go grocery shopping and the cold, hard reality hits you – food is expensive! Turns out, adulting in university also means paying for necessities like food; and for many, this is a burden on top of a full schedule of studies.

Who’s hungry?

Food insecurity on campus does not discriminate. It affects students from every socio-economic class. A survey conducted by Meal Exchange showed that 39 per cent of 4,013 students surveyed at five Canadian universities, “either compromised on the quality of food they ate or worried about running out of food. Almost half of those surveyed said that they had gone without food at some point in order to pay for rent, tuition or books.”

Making the most of every dollar

With numbers like those, it’s important to stretch every food dollar in your budget. Here are some tips:

Good old ramen: The cliché about students eating ramen is true because ramen is just so darn tasty and cheap! However, it’s also far from the healthy food students need to fuel their brain and bodies. Don’t fear. We are not suggesting that you load up your basket with organic kale and imported tahini. There are ways to make your noodles healthier.

Look for instant noodles that do not have palm oil and/or are not fried. These will still cook up quickly like ramen. Don’t use the packet of seasoning; opt for your own blend of spices to reduce the excess salt. You can get tons of unique seasonings at Bulk Barn for pennies on the dollar and have enough left over to flavour other meals. Add vegetables. Broccoli, chard, onion, garlic, sweet peppers, mushrooms – these are not expensive and will greatly boost the nutritional value and the flavour of your meals. Add some protein too. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are costly, but chicken thighs are cheaper while packing more flavour. You can de-bone and de-skin chicken thighs, and use those trimmings to create stock for homemade soup (after all, you have enough leftover seasoning to make a great soup stock!)

Slow and steady: Think a slow cooker is old fashioned? Think again! The slow cooker has been around since the ’70s because it’s the ultimate way to enjoy hot, cheap, tasty meals. The slow cooker is designed to tease out every inch of flavour from proteins while not drying out your food. It’s a great way to cook cheaper, albeit older and tougher, cuts of meat to tender perfection. While you are busy at school, your slow cooker creates a mouth-watering meal (roasts, soup, chilli…) that will be hot and ready when you come home.

Beauty is only skin deep: Loblaws (Real Canadian Superstore, No Frills) has its Naturally Imperfect line of fruits and veggies for up to 30 per cent off the price of “prettier” produce. It’s just as nutritious, it’s just not as Instagramable. You can also frequent farmers markets and u-pick farms when in season to save on fresh produce.

No shame in getting help: No matter which tricks you use, there are times when there will be more bills than food money. Do not be ashamed to ask for help. Most campuses have a food bank for students, and you may qualify for government assistance programs.

You gotta eat: We know it’s not easy, but you must eat. From financial assistance to grocery hacks to websites that show you how to eat well for cheap, do what you must to nourish your body so you can properly nourish your mind.




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